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Ask the Pet Vet: My pet is old. What do I do if they die while RVing?

Dear Dr. Karel,
As a person who travels with a very senior cat, 19+ years old, do you have any thoughts if they die “on the road”? I know that the sad moment will come and I’m not really ready. Maybe a contributor has thoughts along these lines. I’m pretty sure that this sad event has happened to others reading this newsletter. —Tom P.

Dear Tom,
I have recently lost several senior cats, so I empathize and understand your worry. Tabitha, Spalding, and July were veteran campers and I had the privilege of their company for up to 21 years. I did not have to deal with their passing while traveling, however.

Are you a full-time RVer or do you take extended trips with your pet?

Stay up to date with vet visits for elderly pets

It is important to know where your pet is in his health timeline and if there are any other health problems contributing. That means speaking candidly to your vet, who may recommend more frequent exams and tests to stay on top of their health. For instance, a 19-year-old cat is living with failing kidneys. There is no way around it; if they live that long their kidneys start to wear out. They won’t get seriously sick until they have lost 75 percent of their renal function. Even if they are healthy in every other way, the kidneys will fail eventually. Dogs may live with cancer and show no signs until they are suddenly seriously sick. This is why regular vet exams are important.

But the most important thing is how your pet feels, are they eating well, drinking, and alert? How is his/her weight? If your pet is not eating and losing weight, those are big red flags. You know your pet best and it may be time to make some tough decisions.

If your pet is feeling okay, research the available emergency vet clinics in the places you will be staying and have the list with addresses and phone numbers ready. Make sure to bring your kitty’s medical records with you. Here is a piece about finding vet services on the road that may be helpful.

What to do when the time comes

If you are at home, arrange with your vet for end-of-life services. There are also many in-home mobile services that can be less traumatic. If you are planning a long trip and your pet is not doing well and it is clear his time is near, please make the decision to let him go before you leave.

How to deal with it when the time comes? It is so, so difficult. I will give you advice that I learned while working in an oncology referral clinic. Do not let your pet get so sick that the last memory of him is a horrible one. Your vet can help you with this. I have made the mistake of waiting too long and regretting it to this day. 

Last difficult decision

The last difficult decision you will need to make is if you want to cremate your pet and, if so, have a memorial box or urn for their ashes. Or do you want to bury him at home? If you want the former, any clinic can have the cremains mailed to you. But if you are on the road and you want to bring her home for burial, it becomes much more difficult and more emotionally painful. This is why I encourage you to not take your pet on the road if he is not doing well. 

I know how hard this is. It is important to keep at the front of your mind the wonderful life you have given your pet and the responsibility of helping him pass is a heavy one but one that we are blessed to have. When you do make the decision to let him pass, make plans to celebrate his life. Get out the pictures and videos. Make a toast to his memory. And never forget: Your pet is never gone – he lives in your heart forever. 

Here are some resources that may help:

If you have ever dealt with the loss of a pet on the road, please leave a comment and tell us about your experience. Thank you.

Ask the Pet Vet

Fido feeling under the weather? Fifi been having some tummy troubles? Worried about ticks? What’s better, wet food or dry food? Wondering how to clip your pet’s nails? Ask veterinarian Dr. Karel Carnohan your questions. Please include a description of your pet’s issue or a question you’re curious about. Upload a photo of your pet if you choose. Dr. Karel will do her best to answer your questions.

Click or drag a file to this area to upload.

##RVT1028

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Judy S
1 month ago

I always remind myself that, despite how painful it is to lose our pets, it’s better that we outlive them.

Don W
1 month ago

While on an annual summer vacation, with our first dog, who was healthy when we began our trip suddenly became ill and after two trips to a local veterinary clinic the decision was made to have her put to sleep. This was very traumatic to our two young children as well as to us. Then the decision had to be made, what do we do now? We decided to have her remains cremated and shipped back to our home. Every dog since then has also been cremated and kept with us at our home. Just yesterday we had to have our latest dog (Bella) put to sleep as her health had failed. Very ironic (sad) this happened as we prepare to depart this coming Wednesday for our winter travel to California and Arizona. Bella traveled with us over the past 11 years giving us lots of wonderful memories.

Lee Ann B.
1 month ago

Our first year full-time rving we traveled with Karli Sue 14 and Bobo 10. Karli’s kidneys were wearing out. Otherwise she had no health issues. While in Elkhart, IN getting our first year warranty work done Karli, now 15, woke up one morning and let us know it was time. She wasn’t in pain but had no luster, energy, or desire to eat. We found a wonderful vet practice that took us in, contacted our vet back home, ran appropriate tests to determine that she was in kidney failure, and helped us let go of her peacefully with Bobo on hand as well. They had her cremated for us and two days later we had her ashes with a molded paw print. We took her home to our property and spread her ashes. Bobo is now 15 with no health issues thus far. He was so bonded with Karli that he’s refused allowing another dog to join our family and enjoys his “pack” of three.

Goldie
1 month ago

We were faced with his when one of our dogs became seriously ill while traveling. The prior year Sammy had a tumor appear in his mouth. When removed they found melanoma. He received the melanoma vaccine injections and seemed to us, and his oncologist, to be cancer free. So we left on a long planned, nearly four month trip. Almost three months into the trip, Sammy had a seizure. A wonderful local vet (we were in Idaho), did a full exam while an alert, happy Sammy explored his clinic. With no answers, we continued our trip. At the next multiple day stop (now in Wyoming) we decided to err on the side of caution and have full blood work done just to be sure. The local vet there had the ability to process the tests and we had the results of his last blood work before we left home. His results had actually improved. So we continued on our trip as planned. I’ll continue the story as a reply to this posting.

Goldie
1 month ago
Reply to  Goldie

Cont – Next multiple day stop was in South Dakota. Almost a week into our week long stay, Sammy had another seizure. A trip to the emergency vet in Rapid City resulted in a diagnosis of epilepsy. We were given a seizure med and returned back to the RV with a happy, playful dog. That changed that evening. Sammy began wandering around the coach, bumping into walls, trying to climb cabinets, constantly moving. I padded the entire coach with every pillow we owned, sent my hubby to bed and spent a long night getting small naps when he would settle laying on my chest for about 30 minutes before beginning the wandering again. First thing in the morning we were back at the emergency vet. After a long discussion with the vet we were advised to seek a veterinary neurologist – the closest in Minneapolis or Salt Lake City – while Sammy tried to climb the walls of the exam room. I insisted on having full X-rays done – which confirmed my suspicions. Sammy’s body – and brain – were full of tumors.

Goldie
1 month ago
Reply to  Goldie

Cont again – Sammy’s melanoma had returned with a vengeance. It was time to say goodby. The emergency vet was wonderful and gave us time and comfort and gently eased Sammy over the bridge. His ashes actually arrived home before we did, along with a paw print and a wonderful card signed by the staff at the emergency hospital. That was a few years ago. We lost another fur baby on another trip just as suddenly and unexpectedly. It’s never easy but the vets, staff, campground folks and complete strangers have all been caring and kind. And our babies passed doing what they loved too – seeing new sights and checking out all those new sniffs and friends. Thanks to those who took the time to read this long post. Our Sammy was a special guy and he will always live in our hearts.

Joyce DeBarger
1 month ago

We recently decided not to take our 20+ year old cat along on a 6 week trip. Our vet told us she most likely would not make it home again. As hard as the decision was, I know it was the right one. Thank you for your confirmation.

Last edited 1 month ago by RV Staff